A Quality of Love

Fifth Sunday of Easter | John 13:31-35

When we love, we give — though usually of our excess, and usually with some thought of what we might receive in return. That is not the love described in John’s Gospel.

We give of what we have. God gives of what God is. Love looks for nothing, needs no reward: love is its own end.

That love, divine love, perfect love, God’s love, never springs from excess — God always gives all. Perfect love is never from thought of gain — God always has all. God is complete — there is nothing extra to give away, nothing missing to fulfill. The gift of the divine, the love of God, is God giving of God’s self, always complete, with nothing lacking, and with nothing to spare.

Father and Daughter 2Bernard of Clairvaux wrote that the best reason, the truest reason, to love God is God. Love God for God’s own sake. Jesus commands that we love one another the same way, for the same reason, for love’s own sake, for God’s own sake.

It is impossible, of course. Perfect love, like anything other perfection though more so, is impossible for anyone but God.

So what are we mere mortals to do? Cease trying?

Everything we do is lacking and incomplete. Everything from home remodeling to recipes, gardening to spaceships, poetry to medicine — all of it is imperfect, lacking, missing something, not ideal.

Father and Daughter 3The ideal is unattainable. Our problem is that John’s Gospel does not present God’s love as an ideal. It is presented as a reality, a path, a command.

Love one another, as I have loved you.

We might say that Jesus was setting his followers an impossible task. Or we might say he was setting them on the path, the Way, of this gospel message.

Evangelical Christianity places so much emphasis on the cross, on earnestly explaining what God accomplished there, on offering opaque arguments about sin and redemption and God’s requirement for atoning sacrifice. Never mind that by the time of Jesus the prophets had already moved beyond sacrifice.

Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:7-8)

As much as anything else, the crucifixion was an act of love — on the part of Jesus — God giving God’s own self to the world, an act of love undiminished by human judgment and violence. Killing Jesus on that cross was an act of human aggression, fear, resentment, transference. In accepting that death, Jesus responded with the same love he had shown his disciples.

We need not agree on the theological explanations of the cross. Jesus himself spent little time explaining. He did not command his followers to explain. He commanded them to love one another. Explanations, and the ensuing arguments over them, do not feed the hungry, clothe the poor, or shelter the homeless.

We are not commanded to explain the gospel. We are commanded to live it.

We are not even commanded to be right. We are simply commanded to love.

Father and daughter